MIT Reports to the President 1996-97


The Department of Linguistics and Philosophy consists of two sections, twenty-three faculty members (four of them jointly appointed), sixty-four graduate students, two dozen or so visiting scientists and scholars, and a staff of seven. Each section operates quite independently of the other; yet between them there is a significant overlap of intellectual interests in education and research, both among the faculty, the graduate students, and the visitors. In the most recent (1995) National Research Council rating of graduate programs in the United States, Linguistics and Philosophy were ranked first and tenth, respectively -- on faculty quality; second and seventh, respectively -- on program effectiveness.


The linguists continue to pursue an account of natural language in terms of principles of computational economy. The Minimalist Program for linguistic theory, Optimality Theory, and the theory of Distributed Morphology offer somewhat different, sometimes complementary suggestions for the course that the pursuit might follow, and for the reduction of the conceptual apparatus of linguistic theory to virtual conceptual necessity. These ideas continue to be explored, developed, and challenged in research on syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, and on the interfaces between these modules of the grammar of natural language by MIT graduate students, faculty, and visitors.

Neurolinguistic research, in addition to rapidly developing work on language growth and use, is now a central piece of Linguistics research at MIT, and has led directly to the Mind Articulation Project, a five-year, joint MIT Linguistics/Tokyo University Physiology project supported by the Japan Science and Technology Corporation.


Research in philosophy is not so neatly programmatic as it is in linguistics; thus it is best simply to list the wide range of topics pursued in current research in philosophy at MIT, including but not exhausted by the following: the philosophy of phonology and morphology; theories of consciousness and the mind-body problem; causation and laws of nature; the analysis of fundamental metaphysical concepts: substance, attribute, essence, set, identity, etc.; problems at the intersection of ethics and historical sociology; foundational questions of quantum physics; the analysis of natural laws and their role within scientific theories; applied aesthetics; the foundations of "possible worlds" semantics for modal and conditional logics; the ontology of events; the identity across time of people and other physical objects; the principles of rationality governing ethical reasoning; and the role of evaluative thoughts in practical reasoning.


As in the past, the faculty on both sides of the Department gave -- in the course of the year -- a large number of colloquium presentations, keynote talks at conferences, and workshops in various parts of the United States and the world, while publishing an equally large number of journal articles, chapters in books, and reviews. In addition, the following books appeared during the year: Institute Professor Noam Chomsky's Powers and Prospects: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order (expanded edition: Allen & Unwin and the South End Press); Professor Irving Singer's The Harmony of Nature and Spirit (Johns Hopkins) -- volume three of his Meaning in Life trilogy; Assistant Professor Alex Byrne's edited volumes (with Princeton's David Hilbert) Readings on Color: The Philosophy of Color and The Science of Color (MIT Press).


Recruitment of graduate students to the two programs continues at its usual level. Linguistics received ninety-four applications for fall 1997 admission, over half of them from women. Fourteen of the applicants were offered admission. Eight of the ten who accepted the offer are women, one of them an Asian American woman, with eight of the ten being international students. On the philosophy side of the Department, there were 101 applications, twenty of them from women. Thirteen applicants were offered admission with full financial support, with ten others placed on a waiting list for such support. Eighteen declined the offer and five accepted. Of the five new students, two are women and two are international students.

At the exit end of the doctoral program, the placement of persons completing the doctoral programs continued to be good. Seven graduates of the programs will begin new jobs in the fall: at the University of Chicago, UCLA, the University of Delaware, Harvard University, the University of Michigan, and two at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.


Professor Chomsky was awarded the Helmholtz Medal by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie Wissenschaften and an honorary doctorate by the Universidad de Buenos Aires. Ferrari P. Ward Professor Kenneth Hale was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Arizona.


Professor Alec Marantz was on leave for the academic year, during which time he conducted business as usual in his Building 20 office.


It is with pleasure that we note the promotion of Irene Heim to the rank of Professor; the appointment of Professor Robert Stalnaker to the Laurance S. Rockefeller Chair; and the appointment of Assistant Professor Kai von Fintel to the Class of 1942 Career Development Chair. Mid-year, under the Provost's initiative to increase the number of women on the MIT faculty, Sabine Iatridou (MIT Ph.D. 1991) was appointed Associate Professor of Linguistics (with tenure). Michael Glansberg, visiting this year as a temporary replacement for the late Professor George Boolos, will continue in that role as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Philosophy.

With the appointment of Professor Iatridou, the affirmative-action goal of the Department of several years standing, to increase the representation of women on the faculty to at least four, has been realized. Thus it is time to reset the goal at six and to move ahead on this new goal.

A final personnel addition: On July 2, just out of reach of the present fiscal year, Mary Grenham -- the Administrative Officer of this department -- gave birth to a son, Aran.

Wayne O'Neil

MIT Reports to the President 1996-97